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Posted at 12:09 PM ET, 12/23/2011

Redskins-Vikings: Key matchups to watch

The Washington Redskins face the Minnesota Vikings Saturday in the 16th regular season meeting of the franchises. Washington aims to improve to 9-7 all-time against the Vikings.

At 5-9, Washington owns the better record, and Vegas has picked the Redskins as seven-point favorites over the 2-12 Vikings. Washington has lost five straight at home, but Minnesota is just 1-6 on the road this season.

Here are some of the key matchups for this game:

WSH LT Willie Smith vs. MIN DE Jared Allen

Smith will make only the second start of his NFL career Saturday and he draws the task of trying to slow Allen, who ranks among the best pass-rushers in the league. Allen, who has 17.5 sacks, is relentless and boasts great size, speed and athleticism. Smith must use strong fundamentals and be prepared for Allen to go at him with second and third efforts.

WSH secondary, linebackers vs. MIN WR/RB Percy Harvin

The Vikings like to use Harvin in a variety of ways, and Washington’s defensive backs and linebackers must be fully aware of where he lines up. The speedster leads the team in receiving and is great in the open field, so the Redskins can’t afford to let him get loose. Josh Wilson, who is coming off two solid games, likely will find himself matched up with Harvin a good bit.

WSH RB Roy Helu vs. MIN front seven

Helu looks to get back on track after he was hobbled last week against the Giants. The rookie says he feels a lot better and aims to put together his fourth 100-yard rushing game in the last five outings. But he’ll be going against a Minnesota defense that ranks sixth in the league, allowing only 3.8 yards a carry. Leading the way for the Vikings are outside linebacker Chad Greenway (128 tackles), middle linebacker/former Maryland standout E.J. Henderson (87) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (31 tackles).

WSH LBs London Fletcher, Perry Riley vs. MIN RB Adrian Peterson

Fletcher (league leader in tackles with 146) and Riley (averaging 9.8 tackles a game as a starter) have their work cut out for them as they look to lead a Washington defense against Peterson, who averages 4.8 yards a carry. An ankle injury forced him to miss three games, and he hasn’t been as dominant this season as in years past, but Peterson remains a tough assignment. Fletcher calls him one of the most explosive backs in the game. Peterson returned to action last week and coaches limited him to just 10 carries, but he gained 60 yards on them. Peterson was perturbed afterward that he didn’t receive a heavier workload. Look for him to do more this week. The Vikings would like to get Peterson going to ease pressure on rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. But the Redskins will try to take away the run and force Ponder to throw often.

WSH QB Rex Grossman vs. MIN secondary

Grossman has thrown at least one interception in 10 consecutive games. The Vikings have nine straight games without an interception. Is this the prime opportunity for Grossman to end his streak, or the golden ticket for Minnesota’s defensive backs to end theirs? Minnesota’s defense ranks 30th against the pass, yielding 260.4 yards per game, so opportunities should present themselves for Washington to produce some big plays. But, Grossman can do his team in with poor decision-making. Grossman could find himself under pressure a fair amount of the time Sunday with Allen going against Smith. Those are the situations in which Grossman must get the ball out of his hands quickly and be content to throw the ball out of bounds, rather than to the other team.

By  |  12:09 PM ET, 12/23/2011

 
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